Monday, October 26, 2009

More Money Down the Drain?

The Washington Post reported that today Metro was to begin testing a new backup software system that will hopefully reduce the chance of train collisions as happened on June 22. The software is being developed through an Annapolis-based company, ARINC.

According to the Post:
"ARINC has a $15 million contract with Metro to provide electronics for the agency's backup operations control center in suburban Maryland and upgrade equipment at the main control center in downtown Washington. Metro officials have repeatedly declined to say how much the company is charging the transit agency for the additional work on track circuits."

That Metro can't put a price tag on the work is a red flag, but even if you want to give Metro a pass on that, when you take a look at a recent contract with Martek Global Services, you start to wonder.

In 2006, Metro wanted to beef up its computer-based training systems and contracted with Martek to be part of an effort to "provide a wide variety of computer skills training, e-learning courseware and services."

Sounds good, right? Everyday, we riders see and feel the need for more and better training.

However, the contract with Martek, which was for a part of the overall upgrade, was mishandled in a variety of ways, causing Metro to spend a lot of money, at least $400,000, maybe more, only to end up stuck with the inferior legacy training system it was trying to replace, according to an audit released this month.

First of all, according to the audit, things got off to a bad start when WMATA directed Martek to do something other than what was in the contract. Instead of migrating data from the old system to the new, WMATA told Martek to perform general database support services.

Secondly the audit states "there was little or no management oversight."

"The COTR (contracting officer's technical representative) essentially worked alone, with little to no guidance and supervision."

A COTR "acts as the principal point of contact with the contractor, including reviewing and approving invoices and payment estimates; notifying the contracting officer when the estimated cost no-to-exceed amount will be exceeded; and approving the contractor's progress schedule, when required."

There were also a number of key personnel changes at the relevant WMATA offices, a "revolving door of managers" that led to apparent confusion. The reports said one budget officer did finally express concern over how the contract was being managed, but waited a year to do so.

Furthermore, the COTR did not have a "good understanding of his duties and responsibilities" because he'd never received any training in how to manage a contract.

Finally, and perhaps most damning was that there was no WMATA employee officially assigned the role and responsibilities of a project manager for the contract, leaving the weak COTR as a default project manager.

As a result of this audit, WMATA claims to have taken steps to develop and implement COTR training, certifying 146 COTRs and training over 146 contract administrators, buyers and program managers in contract administrations.

Let's hope these moves pay off in the administration of the ARINC contract. Lives are on the line.

Other items:
Fantasy Metro map makes another appearance (GGW)

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Anonymous said...

I think it's really encouraging that an organization like Metro has contracted with such a well-known, scrupulous, transparent company like ARINC.

Oh, crap, wait a minute.

Anonymous said...

ROFL! That audit is absolutely hilarious! I was on the Martek contract when they first purchased Training Server. I love the statement that the product will be "architecturally sound until 2014" Considering it runs on ColdFusion 7 which will be phased out of support NEXT YEAR it's clear that they don't know what they are talking about.

Glad that I left that vipers nest and it's good to see Larry Quick's fiefdom finally coming to an end.

Anonymous said...

what a bunch of idiots. no dedicated funding until they prove they can keep track of it and not waste it!!

Anonymous said...

Note to Metro - I am not your crash test dummy. Test the system outside of operating hours, then test during the day.

Also: Please install this software in your bus drivers.

ELearning Systems said...

That's good news. At least with the new software there will be stability and more safety to ride our trains. Hope less accidents will occur when this project is fully implemented.

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